Aircraft Engineer Licensing Needs To Be Streamlined, MRO Experts Say

aircraft engineer
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Australia’s MRO industry faces major challenges due to a shortage of licensed aircraft engineers, and more needs to be done to improve the engineer certification process, according to a panel of experts.

“The [MRO] industry was bleeding during COVID—many people just left the industry,” Heston MRO CEO Asta Zirlyte said during the Aviation Week MRO Australasia conference in Brisbane on May 17. She noted that many engineer licenses “exist on paper, but people are gone and [the licenses] are not active.”

Zirlyte said she would like to see regulators facilitate some “fast, short-term solutions.” Longer-term solutions can still be discussed, but in the meantime the industry needs help now, she said.

One thing that should be done is expediting approvals for foreign licensed aircraft engineers to start working in Australia, Zirlyte said. There could be some restrictions placed on their licenses initially if required, but at least they could become active more quickly, she said.

Geoff Shearer, MD of New Zealand-based Kotare Aviation, said the MRO sector has seen 2-3 years of “people leaving the industry.” In terms of growing the engineering workforce, the focus should be on “breaking down the barriers to entry and speeding up the process,” he said.

Shearer noted there are forecasts projecting robust fleet growth in the Australasia region in the medium term. However, he “wonders how many of these [new aircraft] will be on the ground because of the lack of engineers.”

There was an average of 297 aircraft engineer licenses issued per year in the 2006-2016 period, said Sheridan Austin, owner of Aviation Quality and Management Services. The average dropped to 135 per year in 2017-2021, and there were just 117 certified in 2022, Austin said.

Austin said one of the reasons for declining numbers of aircraft engineers was a change in the way licensing was certified in Australia in 2011.

There has been a dramatic decline in the number of engineering apprentices being taken on by Australian MRO operators, Austin said. This is partly an effect of the certification changes.

It is more difficult for operators to hire apprentices while there are fewer licensed engineers to supervise them, Austin said. However, “it is critical to the survival of our industry” that more operators take on apprentices.

Austin authored a report for the Regional Aviation Association of Australia in October 2022 outlining several recommendations to improve the engineer licensing and training process.

Adrian Schofield

Adrian is a senior air transport editor for Aviation Week, based in New Zealand. He covers commercial aviation in the Asia-Pacific region.